In the past decade, mesoporous silica nanoparticles (MSNs) have attracted more and more attention for their potential biomedical applications. With their tailored mesoporous structure and high surface area, MSNs as drug delivery systems (DDSs) show significant advantages over traditional drug nanocarriers. In this review, we overview the recent progress in the synthesis of MSNs for drug delivery applications. First, we provide an overview of synthesis strategies for fabricating ordered MSNs and hollow/rattle-type MSNs. Then, the in vitro and in vivo biocompatibility and biotranslocation of MSNs are discussed in relation to their chemophysical properties including particle size, surface properties, shape, and structure. The review also highlights the significant achievements in drug delivery using mesoporous silica nanoparticles and their multifunctional counterparts as drug carriers. In particular, the biological barriers for nano-based targeted cancer therapy and MSN-based targeting strategies are discussed. We conclude with our personal perspectives on the directions in which future work in this field might be focused. Copyright © 2012 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim.